The 2013 Forces for Change in Education

Forces for change in education will produce more choice for consumers, and that is good news.  What we need, of course, is not just more educational choice but better choices that produce a labor force with greater knowledge and skill sets.  The forces for change will lead us in that direction, but education remains a faculty- and teacher-driven industry that is less market-focused than society needs.

Despite lingering economic challenges in the US and Western Europe, the global economy is slowly recovering.  With that recovery, businesses will start to increase hiring of new talent.  What they will find in the labor market, some believe, is a talent base that is improving too slowly in terms of business-needed knowledge and skills.  We see that slow improvement reflected in the frustration of many young people and their parents with underemployment and long-term unemployment.  One reason for low level jobs and the lack of jobs for many people is their lack of the knowledge and skills needed by business.

In 2013, business is likely to effect change in education as it increases its demands on the education industry for graduates of K-12 and colleges with the skills and knowledge to meet its needs.  Businesses are likely to pressure educational institutions to be more market focused, and that is a good thing.  What will be needed are collaborative efforts between business people and educational institutions to define more market-driven knowledge and skills along with the internal will of educators to drive change into curricula and pedagogy that is responsive to this force for change.  This force for change is likely to increase the demands on traditional educational institutions and to produce more choice in education.

Sunday’s New York Times provided the last in a series of articles about New York’s K-12 education.  Although not focused on common core standards, it unintentionally makes the case for another force for change in American education – the common core standards.

This last article was about classes for gifted and talented students and the disproportionate enrollment of whites in those classes.  The writer made clear that the vast majority of students and most non-whites are receiving an education that fails to challenge students to think and problem solve.  Previously on this site I noted that common core standards are producing pressure for change in teaching methods that increase students’ problem-solving skills.  The sidelining of non-white students to education that is deficient is further evidence that common core standards will increasingly provide a force for change.  And that change will demand teaching methods that place greater pressure on students to think creatively.

Pressure for change on education in 2013 will also come from the transformation in the telecommunications and information technology industries.  The transition from desk-based devices to mobile devices will grow stronger in 2013.  With it, telecoms will move even more vigorously from voice to data in their source of revenue and from land lines to cellular as the medium.  These changes to the telecom industry will provide another force for change to education.  Students will increasingly want readily available mobile, digital access to learning materials.  Use of iPads and their devices will grow and with that growth will come expectations from students that will provide a force for change to education.

Can traditional K-12 and higher education respond to these forces?  The answer is only if educators are willing to be more market driven.  The evidence is not very supportive that traditional education can make the changes necessary, i.e., providing more pragmatic knowledge and skills, altering curricula and pedagogy to raise problem-solving capabilities, and responding to students’ desires for mobile access to learning.

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Accountability and the Common Core Standards

Like many states, we in Arizona are implementing what has been labeled, “Common Core Standards” for K-12.  The challenges are considerable, but it will be essential for those inside and outside the system who favor reform to persevere in 2013.  Sunday’s issue of my hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic, cataloged the challenges confronting Arizona’s schools in implementing tougher standards, increasing accountability, and developing a new examination program for students.  The challenges are probably not distinctive to Arizona.

Among the leading challenges is training teachers in teaching methods that lead students to use critical thinking in teaching math and language.  Sound teacher training remains at the heart of improving our educational system.  The good news is that some colleges, like Dean Mari Koerner’s at Arizona State University, are committed to graduating new teachers with these pedagogical skills.  The bad news, according to the Arizona Republic, is that many teachers lack training in this area, and districts lack funding for re-training.

This blog has written before about the role that critical thinking plays in learning science.  I pointed to the advantages that arise from teaching science based on the “Five E’s” –Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate.  Study shows that software like that from Adaptive Curriculum encourages learning based on the Five E’s.  Success with the Common Core Standards depends upon teaching methods that encourage critical thinking is expected.  That teachers lack this skill may be a surprise to many.

The challenge for individual teachers – and districts – is to rectify short-comings in teachers’ skills at using teaching methods that encourage critical thinking.  Both have a responsibility.  Like other professionals who must continuously develop themselves, teachers have a similar responsibility.  School districts, of course, have a responsibility to find funding necessary for professional development training in an area that will make graduates more competitive globally.

That teachers lack training in methods associated with critical thinking is surprising, especially since the Five E’s have been around for decades.  What is also surprising is that the focus of some states like Arizona appears not to include as much of an emphasis on science as language or mathematics.  If the US is to be competitive globally, we will need high school and college graduates who have the capacity to meet the challenges of science, math and language skills.

Tougher, “Common Core Standards” are a major step forward.  That some 46 states are adopting them is really positive.  Now the challenge is to ensure that teachers are capable of implementing them successfully in math, language – and science.